Tagged: acoustic

Gnosis: fusion of east and west, body and spirit, in a rich and hypnotic work

Spectral Lore, Gnosis, Italy, I, Voidhanger Records, CD EP IVR050 (2015)

I understand that this EP isn’t typical of Spectral Lore’s ambient BM discography but after reading a few reviews of some of this act’s other recordings, I realise that Ayloss, the man behind Spectral Lore, isn’t one to stick to the straight and narrow left-hand path. “Gnosis” is a very rich, beautiful and hypnotic work that fuses powerful and hard-hitting corrosive black metal and music of a more esoteric and mystical bent drawn from folk music traditions in Greece and the eastern Mediterranean. If ever you desire to hear fusion black metal / psychedelia combined with music from former Orthodox Christian / Byzantine imperial territories, this highly immersive and evocative EP is the work to refer to.

As its title suggests, “Dualism” straddles the parallel universes of tough, straightforward BM and the soundscapes of blazing hot winds sweeping over shifting landforms of sand through which ghosts of people who lived and died in these regions over the millennia whisper warnings against venturing too far into these desolate realms. While guitars dominate here with twisting Oriental melody and powerful riffs, the drums pound out near-tribal beats and synthesisers add an epic brassy aspect that turn the track into a mini-movie soundtrack. “Gnosis’ Journey through the Ages” is an even more powerful if perhaps repetitive and somewhat unstructured juggernaut of crashing percussion, exotic winding quarter-tone melody, harsh desert demon sighing and expansive windswept and sand-blasted soundscapes that suggest a long, tortuous and perhaps brutal and violent history of Gnosticism through the ages, surviving persecution again and again through underground movements and societies.

“Averroes’ Search”, a reference to the mediaeval Islamic philosopher Ibn Rushd who defended secular reasoning, and the short story of the same name by 20th-century Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges, is an all-acoustic affair of squiggly guitar, bass and percussion mixing formless improvisation and an intricate winding melody accompanied by stately rhythms. The song links two personages (Ibn Rushd and Borges) of two very different and perhaps opposed ages with Ayloss, and its message is that cultures of both East and West have more in common than people realise. By itself “Averroes’ Search” is a very entertaining, absorbing and above all fun piece but it is very long. In the context of the whole recording, it saps the earlier momentum and intensity built up by previous tracks. “A God made of Flesh and Consciousness” is a return to fusion BM / Oriental music form, and while it’s quite a good solid track there are occasional filler-music moments where the guitars seem to be constantly on the defensive battling unseen monsters and barriers, and not advancing very much.

Final track “For Aleppo” appears to stand out from the rest of the EP and has an elegiac and sorrowful mood. The piece may be a lament for the destruction of the Syrian city’s priceless cultural heritage by fanatical ISIS and other Wahhabi Islamist takfiris. A listener can be made painfully aware of the permanence of impermanence, when valued culture in the form of particular objects, the buildings of a city, and the ways in which they are laid out and structured to reflect community values, is destroyed and lost forever.

This is a very singular, passionate and entrancing recording. There are a few stylistic details that I would quibble about but these are my personal preferences: if I’d been the one waving a whip, I’d ask for the acoustic tracks and “A God …” to be tightened up and edited for length and for less background synthesiser imitating conventional Western orchestras. The BM element on this recording is strong and powerful enough to support more live acoustic instrumentation in the cultural traditions being referenced here.

I’d go so far as to say that, with the passage of time, “Gnosis” may come to be considered a major black metal fusion classic of its kind.

PS: The cover of the album is a reproduction of the painting “Lycinna” by John William Godward (1861 – 1922), a late 19th-century British Neoclassicist painter who had the misfortune of being a contemporary of French Impressionists and (later) post-Impressionist and avant-garde art movements. The choice of a Godward painting as the album cover may reflect an interest in an idealised world and culture that could have existed but whose opportunity for existence has now been lost. Significantly, while Godward was alive his work was derided for being outdated but his reputation has risen since his death.



Hearing Pefkin’s idiosyncratic take on acoustic folk music on Liminal Rites (WILD SILENCE NO NUMBER), I was reminded very briefly of The Iditarod whom we heard on their 2014 Foxfur & Rarebits compilation; based on scant evidence, I’m imagining there’s a recent trend in the UK (which might intersect with Sharron Kraus at some point) towards an extremely delicate and almost pallid form of singing and guitar-playing, arriving at something a bit like folk music, but which is quite some way from the full-bodied performances of 1960s folk revivalists such as Ray & Archie Fisher.

However, Pefkin is doing more than just singing and playing on these uncategorisable and near-shapeless (in a good way) solo recordings, touching on genres such as psychedelic rock and ambient drone, and creating captivating trance-like pieces from material that’s so insubstantial as to be almost transparent. Any patterns that emerge from her languid guitar strums or her thin singing voice appear to be happening entirely in my imagination, as she takes the idea of “free form” into her own personal dimension. It’s as though she’s trying to describe something so beautiful and personal that she’s reluctant to share it with anyone else, so she whispers it into her pillow or writes in a private diary and hides away the key. Or else she fears disturbing the unearthly mood that has been conjured up by a sunset, a view of the ocean, or a walk through a shaded glen, barely daring to pick up her watercolour brush to stain the paper. The lyrics are hard to make out, her voice rethought as another instrument in the spartan mix of guitars, drone, and wash effects; and for some reason I imagined she may even be singing in a Gaelic dialect.

Why did I even suppose there’s a folk music connection? Well, perhaps it’s something about the melodies, which tend to stay in a folk-like pentatonic scale; and the drones, though probably generated by synths, might evoke the Pibroch. Gayle Brogan is Pefkin, and is probably better known to you as one half of Electroscope in the late 1990s with John Cavanagh, who also appears here guesting on clarinets and VCS3 on a couple of tracks, and also as a recording engineer. This was released in a very limited run on a French label, packaged with a tracing-paper wrapper over a chipboard sleeve, and arrived here 5th October 2015. We’ve also heard Pefkin on Inner Circle, Outer Circle on the Belgian label Morc Records, and there’s much more material in her back catalogue released by Foxglove, Pseudoarcana, and her own Curiously Euphonic label.

Man Of Iron


Solo percussion noise by Polish experimenter Adam Gołębiewski on his Pool North (LATARNIA RECORDS #LA005) album…Adam is dedicated to the exploration of free music, free jazz, improvisation and (evidently) abstract noise as well, and has played with some excellent musicians in his time including the wild man of the tenor sax, Mats Gustafsson. Also available elsewhere is an obscure document of his Polish tour with Zenial, Michael Esposito, and Phantom Air Waves from 2015.

Pool North is such an extreme-sounding record you might be surprised to learn it’s all acoustic, played on a straight-forward jazz drum kit set-up and recorded with conventional microphone placement. The originality all comes from Adam Gołębiewski’s very direct and innovative playing skills. He stresses his “non-classical” and “far from traditional” instrumental practices, and appears to have developed his own very unusual approaches to sound generation and manipulation. As such, there’s a lot of scraping and rubbing techniques that produce astonishing groaning sounds, forcibly extracting half-alien murmurs and shrieks from metal, wood, and drumskin.

I like this just fine; in fact I prefer it to the few instances where he rattles and bangs and paradiddles in a manner slightly more akin to free jazz. In short, the noisier he gets, the happier I am. It’s one thing to attack the drum kit strewn with multiple foreign objects, as Chris Cutler has done; it’s another thing to bow the cymbals, like Eddie Prévost, and still another to brush gongs to produce lush avant-gamelan drones, like Mark Wastell. Adam Gołębiewski seems determined to push things further down these pathways, and does so in a very physical fashion. Among current avant drummers, I’d say that only Will Guthrie is his match in terms of sheer stamina and extended technique. The cover art, depicting fire irons, is one step away from endorsing medieval torture; it comes close to expressing the near-painful and very physical nature of Gołębiewski’s work, as though he’s pulling teeth or stretching the sinews of a cadaver. From 21 October 2015.


Te Shii Es Tah

Enjoying the album Te Shii Es Tah (VETO RECORDS) by Sekhmet, a Swiss trio who play cello, piano, synths, and drums. The label’s often associated with jaunty free improv records, but Sekhmet don’t entirely fit that profile, and have an unusual sound with an approach to match. Elements of free playing are discernible, but the trio play with such poise and care that the results end up sounding more like modern chamber music that’s been bleached out and faded through 200 bottles of industrial-strength Scelsi, after a pre-wash in a gallon of Feldman…now that I think of it, perhaps more modernist composers should lend their names to brands of laundry products. While ‘So Osun’ may satisfy your thirst for brittle, boney improv of a spidery nature, a track like ‘Af’tah’ is so attenuated it’s barely hanging by a thread, and the subtle brushed gong recordings of Prévost or Wastell seem positively rich in comparison. ‘Liv’ is a solemn funeral drone punctuated by slow ponderous chords from the piano, and ‘Khshnash’ is like the lead violinist from an Luigi Nono concert stepping out for a duet with a one-handed Dannie Richmond. Many of these tunes are short, intense miniatures, but you’ve also got longer workouts such as ‘Clerte O Gun’ where the threesome work themselves into a controlled frenzy of hate, sawing and hammering the guts out of modern music before laying the cadaver in its grave. Sara Käser, Raphael Loher and Vincent Glanzmann are the talented threesome creating this distinctive and innovative acoustic melange of dissonant marmalade. From 9th October 2015.

Saturn Swings


We last noted the Swiss trio Plaistow in October 2012 with their fine and sturdy album of instrumentals called Lacrimosa; and their drummer Cyril Bondi is a regular name in these pages, quite often adding his percussive twigs and mallets to the radically experimental work of Diatribes. The new collection Titan (DYFL / PLAISTOW MUSIC DYCL04CD) once again showcases the superb and inventive piano work of Johann Bourquenez, while for this session the bass guitarist Raphaël Ortis has been replaced by an acoustic double-bass player, Vincent Ruiz. Perhaps because of the mostly acoustic piano-bass-drums configuration, I mistook this music for some form of “jazz” last time, but the press notes for Titan are clear on this point: “It’s not jazz,” they state, adding as a further caveat “It’s not conceptual”.

What remains is a shared musical interest in economy and minimalism (even in some places achieving a very close resemblance to Philip Glass), stating and restating very simple patterns, and also flirting with noise – as much abstract noise as it’s possible to generate from this acoustic set-up. There’s also groove – the bass player and drummer given license on some tracks to deliver a stripped-down form of acoustic Techno or dub, which is a strong indicator of these musicians’ Catholic tastes and their modernity. While no-one will be spinning Titan on the dancefloor any time soon, the precision and tension of the playing here is exemplary, notes hammered home as if fired from a rivet gun (an exceptionally clean and well-oiled rivet gun). The trio’s muse for Titan is an outer-space theme, and all the titles are “freely inspired by the moons of Saturn”, and not just their names but some understanding of their orbit patterns and geophysical characteristics has likewise fed into the work. “One day here lasts ten hours”, state Plaistow blithely, as if they were fully acclimatised to living on or nearby this gigantic planet.

While a connection is not explicitly stated in the music, I need hardly remind the reader of the original Saturn-dwelling jazz pioneer Sun Ra. I was going to write that he would have given his full blessing to this project, but now I doubt if he would have been inclined to do that, since Plaistow are indifferent to metaphor. Titan’s insistence on factual detail doesn’t leave a great deal of room for imagination, either that of the player or the listener – a strategy reflected in the cool and restrained cover graphics. Instead, they succeed in offering a “bone-chilling experience”, with music that is both dynamic and crisp, backed by solid water-tight performances. From 21 September 2015.

Black (Coffee) Celebration


Sylvain Chauveau & Ensemble Nocturne
Down To The Bone

Well, this is a rum one, and no mistake.

One of my comic-reading highlights of 2015 was James Robinson and Greg Hinkle’s “Airboy”, a tour-de-force of self-loathing that actually made me laugh out loud in a coffee shop. This was in response to a panel where Robinson’s character rages against slowed down acoustic versions of 80s new wave songs. High street coffee shops tend to have such things on permanent loop, of course. So, imagine my surprise, and my trepidation, when my review pile yielded up this little item, subtitled “An Acoustic Tribute To Depeche Mode”.

I genuinely do not know what to make of this. I guess it succeeds on its own terms, because these are indeed acoustic versions of Depeche Mode songs, tastefully arranged for piano and strings. The musicians play well, the singer is fine, so these are not bad versions as such, even if it’s very hard to distinguish one track from the next. Apart from Track 6, “(Enjoy) The Silence”, which is 47 seconds of, yes, near silence.

I should point out that I have no strong feelings about Depeche Mode one way or the other, so I have no emotional attachment to the songs. But really, who is this aimed at? If you were a Depeche Mode fan, would you want to listen an entire album of inoffensive chamber jazz/easy listening cover versions? If you’re not a Depeche Mode fan, would you want to listen to an entire album of inoffensive chamber jazz/easy listening cover versions of songs by a band you weren’t really interested in?

Chauveau is described as an “experimental crooner”, although it’s hard to see what’s experimental about any of this. The arrangements don’t seem to reveal any hidden depths or surprising aspects of the originals, apart from the surprise at how similar it all sounds. Maybe there’s a high concept that I’m not picking up or a joke that I’m not getting, but in the end, this doesn’t appear to be anything more than a collection of slowed down acoustic versions of new wave songs.

If that’s your cup of macchiato, or if you’re a café owner putting together a playlist, dive on in.

Editor’s note: this is a reissue of an album originally released in 2005 on Les Disques Du Soleil Et De L’Acier.


SYNEUMA img012

Fairly compelling improvised music that’s alternately busy and droney from the ad-hoc trio Thanos Chrysakis, James O’Sullivan and Jerry Wigens on their Syneuma (AURAL TERRAINS TRRN0621) CD…O’Sullivan has been noted here before for his solo electric guitar work and as part of the London combo Found Drowned, while clarinettist Wigens is a new name to me. However, it’s the Athens-born player Chrysakis whose presence hangs over the group sound here, his “inside piano” resonating like a dreamy music box from Looking-Glass World and suspending the other musical contributions in a foggy soup. I’m keener on this echoey mode of his than when he attempts his sub-Cecil Taylor jazz runs, which appear to me hesitant and poorly-formed. However, he does form a simpatico bond with Wigens, and the two blend well together on their wooden platform, which may reflect the other numerous times they’ve recorded together for this label. Given the relationship of this pair, O’Sullivan sometimes doesn’t know where to put himself, and tries out any number of devices and idioms from his guitar repertoire, none of which are quite right for the occasion. Nondescript and blurry cover art, which is just about saved from disaster by a brave experiment in bold typography.

Dadamah Covered


The latest instalment in the Alone Together Series of singles from Emerald Cocoon is by Pete Swanson, who’s been steadily establishing a name for himself as purveyor of extremely melancholic and harrowing music since the demise of Yellow Swans. His High Time / Trees (EC007) may have started life as simple acoustic guitar ballads, a sort of mirror-image underground version of Terry Jacks or Tim Buckley, but what’s ended up on the grooves is a thick, clotted sound arising from distortion, overdubbing, and other studio distancing strategies. Even so, the label assures us, there is still an audible “room sound” that shows the simple, natural origins of these recordings. Both songs are Swanson’s tribute to New Zealand underground rock, of which he’s a devotee. ‘High Time’ was originally recorded by Dadamah in 1991 and released by Majora as the B-side of the Nicotine single; Peter Stapleton and Roy Montgomery both featured in this important NZ band. ‘Trees’ is a more recent offering by Gate, plucked from their 2010 album of techno-ambient gloomery. In both instances, Pete Swanson transforms the songs into introverted hymns of loneliness, building a claustrophobic sound through entirely acoustic means, and delivering a pained scenario where the protagonist is so alienated and numb that they’re no longer aware of anything but a distressing, emotional confusion. The bewildering cover images (especially the back cover) merely add to the general sense of disconnect. From 30th January 2012.

The Unexpected Answer


Paco Rossique is a Spanish sound artist from the Canary Islands. I warmed instantly to his Collages & Dispersions (LINEAR OBSESSIONAL RECORDINGS LOR063), a visionary and dream-like mixture of field-recordings and live sounds, blended with occasional stabs at detuned and denatured musical instruments, moving beyond the obvious with prepared piano, stringed instruments and percussion, to create his own unique moments of Harry Partch-like ruggedness. His is a very personal and private universe, which we can glimpse occasionally through is subtle and under-stated works, which are haunted with memories, passing thoughts, ghosts, nostalgic longings, and unfamiliar emotions. It helps tremendously if you peruse the booklet (downloadable as a PDF) while listening; each track has its own accompanying watercolour/collage image and a text of prose/poetry, giving further clues to help unlock the hermetically sealed information. In this he strongly resembles two other introverted daydreaming visionaries who we very much like at TSP, namely Joe Frawley and Edward Ruchalski. With these spacey acousmatic interludes and trance-state fugues, the beautiful amorphous music sometimes interspersed with fragments of speaking voices and murmuring phantoms from the ethereal zones, I’ve no hesitation in greeting Paco Rossique as a Surrealist-manque, the aural equivalent of a Paul Delvaux or Leonora Carrington. An unusually rich album for this label, I might add, which I have often associated with dry and spare recordings of minimal acoustic improvisation. From 28 May 2015.


Path Through The Forest


Freaky Polish neo-folk from 23 Threads on their Conspicuous Unobstructed Path (ZOHARUM ZOHAR 093-2) album…this marginal Polish combo first surfaced in 2001 with a record called Magija, which had been recorded in 1995. At that time, the band were effectively the duo of Marek Marchoff and Dorho Marchoff, with guest players appearing under mysterious aliases such as Animal’94 and Industry AW. The resulting CDR appeared on the obscure Furia Musica label in Poland, home to other intriguing avant-rock acts such as One Million Bulgarians, Mannequin and Serpent Beat.

Some 20 years later, they managed to get this new album recorded in New York. Core member Marek remains, and appears to play most of the instrumentation himself, joined by Rafal Janus with his upright bass and djembe, and the band’s new secret weapon – the chanteuse Ingrid Dawn Swen. I’m assuming, just by looking at her photos on the cover and hearing her voice, that she has quite a strong personality. She doesn’t exactly dominate the album, but when her creepy breathy whispers and implacable utterances arrive on the tape as if by stealth, all cats in the neighbourhood arch their backs and their fur stands up on end. She isn’t really singing, either – it’s more in the nature of a poetry recit, half-sung half-spoken pronouncements, with every turn filled with hidden significance. The lyrics are derived from the writings of MJ Caroline Rider, and Swen’s contribution to the project has involved a certain amount of editing to deliver only the choicest nuggets of mysterious fate.


At this point, it may not surprise you to learn that 23 Threads have an interest in the esoteric – Marek Marchoff is photographed wearing an Egyptian medallion across his bare chest, holds a rooster (a symbol persisting from their first album) in an ominous way, there’s the mystical number 23 in the band name, and the album apparently abounds in “references to esoteric tradition” as it endeavours to tell the story of “a woman moving through mysterious forests”. The genres of pagan, neo-folk and dark folk are a closed shop to me, and my interest in the works of Current 93 or Tony Wakeford is virtually nil, but 23 Threads still holds a good deal of interest even to the non-initiate. Marchoff is very skilled at creating, and sustaining, a genuinely unsettling mood with his very subtle musical arrangements, eschewing cheap drama and theatrics, and does it mainly through acoustic means – his mesmerising acoustic guitar becomes an instrument of dark magick, and each track ripples with understated atmospheres.

Further esoteric thrills to be found with the inside photos of the band posing with various symbolic devices (and hats); Ingrid certainly looks very pleased with her ceremonial dagger. For those of you intending to delve further, you may be pleased to learn the label has also reissued their debut album this year. From 5th May 2015.